Reviewing is Easy, Right?

Posted by: Sabine

For many people who have never done it, writing a review seems really easy. After all, you just need to ask for a review copy of a book you’re interested in, read the story and tell everyone you liked it or you didn’t, right?

Not so much.

I’ve been reviewing books for several years and have learned, by trial and error, some of the requirements for a good review as well as some of the best practices of being a reviewer. Do note that there are no universal “rules” for reviewing. This just happens to be my own list and my own rules, not that of Wild On Books or any other review site.

To be a good reviewer, you need to:

  1. Communicate your opinion. Everything hinges on good communication skills. If those reading your review can’t make sense of it, what’s the point?
  2. Read and enjoy the genre. It’s very difficult to judge a story if you are not well read in the genre and if you don’t like the genre, it will show. Always. Reviewing a book whose genre you don’t like tends to lead to unfair reviews and reflects badly on yourself and the site you review for.
  3. Actually READ the book. There are some reviewers that I, personally, do not believe actually read the story they review. The glaring errors and track record says it all and these reviewers have lost all respect, if not become a laughingstock.
  4. Distill the book into a short summary. You need to be able to summarize the story of the book without giving away plot points or spoilers that can cause readers of the review to either be angry at the spoiler or not buy a good book because you’ve told them what will happen. This is an area where there is disagreement. Some reviewers will throw the whole story in their review and analyze it but I don’t like that, really. Especially if the book is a good book, I want them to enjoy the story from the beginning and buy the book to do so. Otherwise it would be like watching a movie after someone told you the whole plot. It’s never going to have the same impact.
  5. Understand and examine your own reactions. You need to be able to read the story and, at the same time, analyze your reactions to the story. When you’re done reading it, you need to be able to tell readers of the review things you liked, didn’t like, etc. This can be difficult when you feel strongly about a story, both postively and negatively. There has been a few times I’ve had to re-read a story because I forgot to make mental notes and had gotten sucked into the story as just a reader.
  6. Be constructive and not cruel. This is especially so for the authors whose books your review. Many authors read their books’ reviews carefully to look for ideas of what they need to work on more and what people did or didn’t like. The best thing you can offer the author is constructive feedback. If you don’t like something, be sure you can say why. If you like something, praise it and say why it resonated with you. I know there are a few reviews who make a practice of doing “snarky” reviews. Personally, I think these are unnecessarily cruel and I don’t do it.
  7. Know and respect your own biases. There are times you will read a story that you love except for one aspect of it. You should be able to set that aside and not damn the whole book because it hit a hot button for you, though you might choose to mention the hot button issues if it’s not a spoiler. Some people get so upset at some things that they just can’t do a fair review. All reviewers have had this happen to them at least once and it’s a good idea to turn the book back in and decline to do the review if you can’t separate the story from your hot buttons.
  8. Keep your commitments. You need to be dependable and honor your promises. If you take a book for review, you need to follow through with the review in some sort of reasonable timeframe. Most review sites have guidelines to follow that outline expectations.
  9. Be honest. If your reviews aren’t honest or you love or hate everything you review, your reviews lose impact and really don’t help the author or the readers. No one pays much attention to reviews that aren’t honest.

So if you think you want to write reviews, many review sites are aquiring reviews all the time. They can be a great training ground but you also might want to just post reviews on your own blog or MySpace where the only rules are your own. But read a lot of other reviews first and get a feel for what approach you want to take and how others are phrasing things.

It’s a great way to get a few free reads, but it IS a job.

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3 Responses to “Reviewing is Easy, Right?”

  1. Lea Says:

    Hi Sabine:

    GREAT post. I have set up a little blog and have been posting reader reviews of books I enjoy. This is a hobby, it’s something I do because I like it and want to share my thoughts as a reader with other readers. I’m finding, like anything else the more you practice and write the reviews, the more you improve.

    Your advice is stellar and I’m going to utilize it as I continue to do more reviews. Your point number 4 is the one I find most challenging. I have a real pet peeve with reviewers who give away spoilers and I while I think it is important to talk about who the characters are and how they are woven into the plot, giving away the entire essence of the story is wrong. I try and pick out the sailent points and work my review and opinion around them.

    It is work and is time consuming but enjoyable for me, at least for the present. :smile:

    Best Regards

  2. Sabine Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Lea. I thought it might be good to lay out what I thought it takes to be a good reviewer and things to keep in mind.

    I’m hoping it helps a few people who want to write reviews!

    Have a great weekend.

  3. Jennifer A. Ray Says:

    Sabine, you make some very valid points regarding reviewing.

    One of my personal pet peeves is those reviewers who don’t understand the difference between a book review and a book report. A book review should tell a bit about the story without giving anything away and should give the reviewer’s opinion of the story. The intended audience for a review is readers who have NOT yet read the book.

    A book report analyzes every nuance of a book, including the spoilers. The audience for a book report is full of people who have already read that story.

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